To be honest, on a rainy Tuesday at the Minnesota State Fair, there were bigger crowds at the judging of the Hampshire sheep and junior heifer competitions. Still, there was another contest on the fairgrounds and the crowds were equally engaged. At the Minnesota Republican Party building on Carnes Avenue, nearly 5,000 fair-goers so far have cast their vote in a straw poll of candidates seeking the GOP nomination for president.
The ranking Tuesday showed Rep. Michele Bachmann with a decent lead over second-place Gov. Rick Perry and third-place Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, followed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Dave Fitzsimmons, 6th district Republican chair who was manning the booth, said the ranking has stayed the same since the polling opening last Thursday.
Favorite-daughter status might be accounting for the Bachmann standing, but her sign-up sheet is drawing almost as many signatures as the “Protect the Second Amendment” sheet and more than “Repeal Obama Care.”
The Bachmann sheet was scrawled with dozens of names, including 20-year-old Kasandra Danielson of St. Paul. “I just agree with her policies,” Danielson said. “She’s a good fresh start.”
Danielson’s youth contradicts the stereotype of the Republican voter as male and older. Although the crowd at the GOP booth on Tuesday was predominately white, the age spectrum spanned a few generations with candidate Ron Paul drawing what appeared to be a more eclectic group.
Paul, the self-described “Godfather of the Tea Party,” is the only candidate to have a free-standing booth, just a half a block away from that of the Minnesota GOP. In a half-hour period, a dozen or more fair-goers stopped to browse the amply supply of campaign literature and listen to four enthusiastic volunteers well-versed on the Paul positions. They are there to sign up delegates to the Republican state convention, even providing a guide to a delegate’s first step, the caucuses next February.
Corey Felling, a salesman from Minneapolis, put his name on sign-up sheet. He’s fan of Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy.
“Why are we putting a flag in Afghanistan?” he asked. “I’d rather put some money into NASA and put a flag on the moon.”
Felling says he’s a political independent. “I’m middle-of-the road,” he said. “But after hearing what the other candidates are saying, right now I’m a Ron Paul supporter.”
Back at the Minnesota GOP building, Fitzsimmons says that based on the political preference indication on the straw-vote ballot, there’s almost as many “independents” visiting the GOP as Republicans. “That’s the Minnesota streak,” he said.
One of those, independents, Jon Sawyer of Minneapolis, gave Fitzsimmons an earful on a proposed new Vikings stadium. He pointed to the sign that stated, “No New Taxes.”
“How does a tax for a stadium fit into this?” Sawyer asked. “Isn’t it Republicans in the Legislature pushing this? Isn’t that kind of hypocritical?”
Fitzsimmons replied that party was officially opposed to a stadium tax, as is he.
But the subject that’s drawing the most comment at the moment isn’t taxes or jobs or health care. It’s presidential candidate Thad McCotter, whose picture is on the wall of the GOP building and whose name is on the ballot.
Thad who? “That is one of the most frequent questions I get asked,” Fitzsimmons said, laughing. “Even I had to look him up.”
For the record McCotter is a congressman from the 11th congressional district in Michigan, just northwest of Detroit, and he’s not even a blip in the State Fair straw poll.